Wednesday, December 29, 2004


I don't know how to respond to the recent catastrophe, so I am going to pass the buck. Below is a list of links to posts on the subject by Jewish bloggers. (Feel free to mention any that I missed in the comments.)

The Fourth Rabbi has a story from a relative in Thailand and some reflections on the fragility of human life.

Strange_Selkie has a characteristically moving theological post.

Chayyei Sarah shares some thoughts on hester panim (God "hiding his face") and tikkun olam ("repairing the world"), as well as a poem by a friend.

Out of Step Jew muses on monotheism and natural disasters and references a collection of responses by other religious bloggers.

Allison Kaplan Sommer reports on Israelis vacationing in Sri Lanka, shares an incredible personal account of the disaster, and gives us the depressing (though unsurprising) news that Sri Lanka has refused to accept an Israeli aid delegation. She also reminds us that donations to help the victims can be directed to the American Jewish World Service.

Rachel Barenblat has some more details on the AJWS emergency appeal, as well as other organizations offering aid.

Reb Yudel has a post on the same topic.

Miriam Shavit reports on a telling error in the Vatican newspaper.

In case that isn't enough for you, Judith at Kesher Talk has a few more links.

And now for something completely different...

The Christian Science Monitor is running a poll on whether U.S. based churches should divest from companies that do business with Israel. The anti-Israel position currently has a significant lead. Companies' overall perception of public opinion is likely to affect their decision-making, so your vote may make a difference. (All right, so it probably won't, but it only takes a minute to vote. What's the harm?)

For the sake of the technologically illiterate, I'll make this simple: Click here to vote.

(I realize that I'm making an assumption about the opinions of my readers. Needless to say, which side to vote for is up to you.)

UPDATE: One more post from Allison Kaplan Sommer on Israeli aid to South Asia. This one's more lighthearted. (Very funny, actually. And sad.)

IMPORTANT CORRECTION: The Vatican's rebuke was not directed at Israel but at Sri Lanka, for refusing to accept Israeli aid. I've read bad translations before, but this is ridiculous.

UPDATE 2: Bloghead discusses responses to the disaster by religious Jews. Gil Student cites Psalm 46. Allison Kaplan Sommer has an update on Israeli aid efforts. Hatshepsut bashes the media for failing to notice.

UPDATE 3: Andrew Silow-Carroll has an excerpt of a fax from the Sri Lankan government, apparently distributed by the Israeli Consulate. The government of Sri Lanka thanks the "government and people of Israel" for their assistance and explains that their earlier rejection of an Israeli rescue team was "due to the lack of accomodation available in the country at this point and skilled manpower required for medical attention becoming adequate for the present in many areas." I think that means that they didn't need or have room for any more helpers. I'll believe that when I hear about the rejection of rescue teams from other countries.

Be that as it may, the Sri Lankan government is clearly trying to undo its earlier decision, and that sounds like good news to me.

Thursday, December 23, 2004


A while back (December 11th, to be precise), Jim Davila of PaleoJudaica wrote that he was inclined to stop using the term "biblioblogger" for bloggers who deal with the Bible:

I don't remember where it came from, but it's confusing: it looks like it could mean "bibliography blogger" or "book blogger" or "Bible blogger" or maybe even something else. "Bible blogger" ("academic Bible blogger," if you want to be precise) is much more straightforward and I think that's what I'm going to say from now on.

Ed Cook of Ralph the Sacred River objected that "Bible Blogger" has "overtones . . . of 'Bible Thumper,' 'Bible Believer,' and 'Bible Christian.'" This prompted a slew of alternative suggestions, including "biblablogger," "Bible scholar blogger," "biblicoblogger," "biblicablogger," "Bib-Lit blogger" (alternatively "BibLit Blogger," "BibLitBlogger," "Biblit Blogger," or "Biblitblogger"), "Scriptoblogger," "CryptoBlogger," and "antiquiblogger." (Cook suggested "biblogger" -- pronounced "bye-blogger" -- but that apparently sounded too much like "bisexual blogger.")

Personally, I'm somewhat partial to "BS Blogger," but then, I'm not really much of a biblioglioggerer (or whatever), so maybe it's not my place to proffer an opinion. (I'm not really a "postbiblioblogger," "transbiblioblogger," or "metabiblioblogger," either. "(Biblio+)blogger," maybe, but that doesn't exactly roll off the tongue.) In any case, it's beginning to look like the bibliobliggerigs are going back to plain old "biblioblogger." So that may be the end of that.

In other news, US News & World Report has a special "collector's edition" out entitled Mysteries of the Bible. Thoroughly entertaining. Skip the timeline, though.

Tuesday, December 14, 2004


My DH has started a Live Journal. He calls himself "elfsdh." Very creative.

Thursday, December 09, 2004

An Excuse to Eat Cheesecake

The RaMa (Rabbi Moses Isserles, c. 1525-1572) writes of a custom to eat cheese on Chanukah. The practice, he says, is meant to remind us of the milk that Judith served to a Greek general in order to put him to sleep, thus enabling herself to put him to death. This is curious, since the book of Judith (in its present form) has nothing to do with either Chanukah or dairy products. The story takes place during the reign of Nebuchadrezzar, over 400 years before the Hasmonean revolt commemorated on Chanukah, and the heroine lulls the enemy general to sleep with wine, not milk, before decapitating him.

The version of the legend involving milk is apparently the result of a conflation of Judith's story with that of Yael (Judges 4:17-31; 5:24-28), setting us back another 600 years or so. (Yael, according to the biblical narrative, lulled a Canaanite general to sleep with a bottle of milk before driving a tent peg through his head.) The Mishna Berura (Sh"A 670) harmonizes the two as follows:

She [Judith] was the daughter of Yohanan the High Priest. There was an edict that every engaged woman should sleep with a nobleman first, and she fed the head of the oppressors cheese to make him drunk, and cut of his head, and everyone fled.

The cheese apparently made the man thirsty, causing him to drink large quantities of wine.

Most scholars date the composition of the book of Judith to the Hasmonean period, and some suggest that it should be understood as an allegory for the Jewish struggle against the Syrian-Greeks. If this is the case, the story of Judith may be related to Chanukah after all, albeit not in the manner presumed by later Jewish tradition.

This, however, is not why I try to observe the custom of eating dairy on Chanukah. I do it because it provides an opportunity to tell the story of the story of Judith, a wonderful example of the continual re-creation of history within Jewish tradition.

That, and I really like cheesecake.

*Sort of. The author seems to have thought that Nebuchadrezzar was Assyrian, so one can't take the historical setting all that seriously.

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Choosing Life

(I didn't come up with the biblical reference, but I like it.)

Our Hillel had a visit last week from the president and founder of the Halachic Organ Donor Society. Did you know that Jews have the lowest percentage of organ donors among all ethnic groups worldwide? If we valued life as much as we claim to, the opposite would be true. Organ donation has been judged halakhikally permissible by R. Moshe Feinstein and many Orthodox authorities after him, as well the Chief Rabbinate of Israel and the governing bodies of the Conservative and Reform movements. Some consider it obligatory. Our failure to donate is completely unjustified.

You can register for a donor card here. One of the more important things that I learned from the lecture is that in the United States, it is illegal to harvest a victim's organs without the approval of a spouse or family member. Many Jews oppose organ donation for all sorts of emotional and superstitious reasons, and sometimes because of misconceptions of halakha. If your emergency contact is one of them, your donor card is useless. You have to ask. (If a religious family member needs convincing, refer him or her to this page or this page.)

It's probably a lousy time to bring this up. But then, it usually is. Here's how I try to look at it: we take out insurance to protect ourselves from all sorts of eventualities that we hope will never occur. We don't like to think about these possibilities, and in most cases, the odds are that they will not happen. That doesn't stop us from doing what's necessary to protect ourselves. This is the same thing, except that it's for someone else. That doesn't make it any less urgent.

Full disclosure: DH and I haven't registered for cards. We're troubled by one aspect of the HODS form, which is its requirement that all preparations for transplant be made in consultation with a family-appointed rabbi. This seems like an unnecessary delay. If brain-stem death has been determined by a medical team, and if your family's rabbi views brain-stem death as halakhik death, what can he (or she) possibly have to contribute? (This is a serious question. Anyone?)

One last thing: HODS seems to be trying to arrange for lectures at synagogues, Jewish organizations, and high schools. Those of you in Jewish education and/ or the rabbinate might want to look into that.

Okay, that's all for now. We should all have good health, as they say. Happy Chanukah.